Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reflections on a Rainy Day

It's a rare rainy day in rural Arizona as I mark a significant anniversary: a year ago today was my last day of work at UCLA and the beginning of a long-dreamed retirement and relocation from Los Angeles to Arizona.

And, as I watch the rainfall pool around the cactus in our front yard, I was just thinking about the whole subject of dreams and expectations -- how they propel us through life and how they complicate our lives. When we dream, we often forget to factor in the realities of daily life and the fact that, in achieving a dream, we lose that dream as a fantasy of the future.

Remember how, as a child, Christmas never seemed to come soon enough? And then, after all the presents were opened and the holiday meal savored, there was not just gratitude for yet another lovely holiday, but also a touch of sadness that all that anticipation, all the delight of holiday music, all the planned festivities were about to become the past.

I remember how, as a young ballet student, I -- along with my classmates -- yearned for the day when we would be strong enough and judged good enough to go en pointe. I fantasized that once I got my toe shoes, I would morph into a graceful ballerina, awkward with turns to the left no more. But when that time finally came, I was no better at turning to the left than ever. And I lost something in grace -- and my feet blistered -- as I struggled to adjust to these strange new dance shoes.  Though I eventually reached a stage of dancing reasonably well en pointe, I had to face the fact that I was never likely to be a professional ballet dancer -- as much as I loved dancing, as much as I could envision a fluid, ethereal style in my mind.

And even when a dream has a wonderful eventual outcome, the initial realization of the dream may depart considerably from misty fantasies.  During an interview for a book I wrote on single parenting some years ago, actress Reva Rose, the single adoptive mother of three children from India, recounted her first meeting with her first adopted child, a two-year-old girl she named Emily. "I had fantasized our meeting as a warm and loving Kodak moment, something like a Clairol commercial where we were running through fields of flowers towards each other with outstretched arms," she said. "The reality was that this was a two-year-old child in an Indian orphanage and I was a stranger.  She took one look at me, screamed and tried to struggle out of my arms.  Hoping to speed the bonding, I took her on an excursion to a local zoo and she screamed so loud, pushing away from me, that bystanders were ready to call the police. Obviously, our relationship improved immensely with time. We are truly mother and daughter now.  I can't imagine life without Emily and my two sons whom I adopted later.  But I learned to give up those unrealistic fantasies and, as I realized my dream of being a mother,  give love time to grow."

We pin so many hopes on the milestones of life -- telling ourselves that "I will be happy when..."
I'm independent, when I get married, when I have a child, when the kids are on their own, when I get a promotion, when I retire....

And we find that independence brings challenges as well as joys, that marriage is no magic shield against depression or illness or misunderstandings, that to have a child is a joy beyond all others, but also makes us vulnerable in ways we never imagined, that having the kids leave the nest can mean not just liberation, but also a very real sense of loss, that promotions mean more responsibilities and pressures in addition to satisfaction, that retirement can be wonderful, but the complications of daily life still abound.

I see and feel the unexpected amendments to long-time dreams all around me. There are the people who focused on retirement as an escape from the rat race, from the stresses of commuting and working, from an unhappy job situation -- without giving sufficient thought to what they would do in retirement, what would occupy their minds, give structure and meaning to their lives and stoke their passions. There are those who expected life to be perfect in a new setting -- only to find that wherever they go, there they are. Life can be pleasant, indeed, in a lovely new community where aging Boomers don't feel marginalized. But that doesn't mean one's collection of habits, proclivities and limitations -- and those of the people around us -- don't continue to be part of daily life.

Compared with a year ago, I'm lighter, more active, less stressed and feel happy more often. But I still struggle with my weight, still get migraines occasionally, still have times of sadness with the losses that life can bring -- from the loss of a beloved pet to the loss of physical prowess.  I always imagined that, with retirement and weight loss, I would dance my way through the years -- maybe not en pointe -- but certainly tap-dancing my way through the rest of my life. But my arthritic feet make dancing more difficult than I imagined -- but they're just fine for walking, for aerobic bicycling, for strength training, for getting me where I need to go.

From my vantage point of nearly 66 years old and one year into retirement, I can see growing limitations in the future, accept that reality and am determined to make the most of each day now.  For the first months of retirement, I was pinching myself daily to make sure this new freedom wasn't just a dream. Then it seemed like an extended vacation. Now it feels like my life -- a very blessed life, to be sure -- but a life that holds a measure of sadness to season the joy.

And my new dreams are more modest in scope than my old sweeping dreams of freedom in retirement.  I want to get in the best possible shape and live a healthy life for as long as possible.  I want to nurture friendships -- both old and new ones -- and be open to new people and possibilities on a daily basis.  I want to learn and grow, to become a better person as I age -- wiser, more generous, more forgiving to others and to myself.  And I'm learning to savor each moment instead of looking past it with dreams -- or dread -- of the future.

So I treasure this rare rainy day, watching the rain fall and smelling the unique and refreshing scent of desert creosote that is most fragrant during and after a rain .  And I tell myself there's no better place, no better time, than right here, right now.


  1. Thanks for the reflections. I've come to some of the same conclusions as I come up on a year since my own retirement. Some of the goals I made I've achieved. Some I set aside. The most important things are to take care of my body, to nourish relationships old and new, and to find activities for which I feel passion - or at least which energize me.

  2. Kathy, this is a wonderful post about the realities of life and the stages of life versus our dreams and fantasies about the future. We are nearly the same age, so I can totally relate with what you say. I also struggle with my weight and with arthritis in my feet, my spine and in my hands.

    I am learning that acceptance is the key to enjoying where I am in life. I see so many who just can't accept loss, age, and health limitations. They are miserable and don't enjoy the time they have. You are right, now is the only time we have. How we use that time is up to us.

  3. Kathy, what a beautiful and inspiring post. Somewhere along the road of life, if we can learn to live in the "now" it will make life better, the sooner the better. This is something not only for retirees, but younger people will get a lot out of it, if only to reflect back on as they are too busy making things happen now.

  4. Thank you so much for this profound and well-observed post, Kathy. I've found that for me the secret is to have things to look forward tom but not to dwell on them, but to try to live in the present as much as I can. Nearly 300 years ago a French spiritual writer wrote a book called "The Sacrament of the Present Moment" and I've tried to take that idea as my motto in retirement. Having already (at almost 65) had cancer twice, the present is all I can be sure of and it's a good one.

  5. Thanks so much for your comments! I think we all agree that living in the moment as much as possible is the goal!

  6. This is another great post! In retirement it is so easy to make lots of plans for what you will do and where you will be -- and then 'life happens'. My 'plan' this year was to be in the UK most of the year in order to qualify for UK citizenship -- but it's not likely to be possible -- here I am in the USA because I can be with my mother, and how fortunate I am to be able to have that choice.

  7. Right here, right now! That's my mantra too. Add a great sense of appreciation when days are filled with simple joys, every part working, every bite appreciated, and we are in heaven.

    A very thoughtful and important post. So glad that you and I have found each other on the web, btw. Who knew!

  8. I retired early and almost on the spur of the moment. I spent the first year trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. Now two years into retirement, I still haven't figured out what I'm supposed to be doing but my blood pressure is normal and I sleep like a baby.

    I wish I had read the blogs of this community of retired bloggers to prepare me for retirement. i continue to learn and be supported by the cyber connections.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  9. Kathy,
    Your post is so deep in reflection. I have to confess that it brought tears to my eyes. I love the way you look in retrospect and then to the present, and the reality. I like your last line: "there's no better place, no better time, than right here, right now." I completely agree with you.

    I'm glad I found your blog. I'm looking forward to reading some of your prior posts. And thanks for stopping by my blog, and for your kind comment.